Philippines to restart talks with rebels

2011-01-14 14:32

Manila - The Philippines said on Friday it would restart peace talks next month with Muslim separatist rebels in an effort to end a decades-long insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will take place in Malaysia on February 9-10, the first formal negotiations between the two sides since President Benigno Aquino was elected to office last year.

"The government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have put the peace negotiations back on track," a government statement said.

The head of the government peace panel, Marivic Leonen, said the parties agreed to restart the talks during informal negotiations in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.

Previous peace talks collapsed in 2008 after the Supreme Court outlawed a draft peace settlement that would have given the MILF control over large areas of the mineral-rich southern island of Mindanao.

The 12 000-strong MILF has began waging a rebellion since 1978 for an independent Muslim state on Mindanao, which makes up the southern third of the largely Catholic Philippines.

The Supreme Court's decision triggered attacks by MILF commanders on Christian communities in Mindanao. The resulting surge in violence displaced 750 000 people and left nearly 400 people dead, according to official data.

More than 150 000 people have died since 1978 due to the rebellion, according to the government.

Aquino's government is also seeking to restart peace talks with communist rebels, who have been fighting the government since 1969 in a conflict that has also claimed many thousands of lives.

Preliminary talks with the communists will be held in Norway this weekend aimed at forging an agreement to restart formal negotiations.